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 Vasily Sitnikov

Born:   August 19, 1915
Deceased:   November 28, 1987



The personality and life of artist Vasily Sitnikov (1915–1987) are amazing. Sitnikov was an extraordinary person, very interesting but at times hard to communicate with. He was one of the most vivid “landmark” figures of the post-war nonconformist art of Russia.

Unfortunately, history has not preserved many records of life and creative and teaching activities of this artist, ‘a living legend’ in his time.

Sitnikov Vasily Yakovlevich was born in Novo-Rakitino Settlement of Tambov Province on August 19 (September 1), 1915 into a family of peasants that moved to Moscow in 1921. In 1933 he studied in Moscow Ship Mechanics School dreaming to sail to faraway lands; there he took to making models of sailing vessels.

Still life (1982) In 1935 Sitnikov was entering VHUTEMAS (The State Higher Art and Technical Workshops) but deceived by administration was not taken in, which he suffered as a personal tragedy. Instead of studying for artist in the academy he became a ‘lamplighter’ in the Surikov Art Institute: he assisted professors by showing lantern-slides at lectures (this is where his nick-name “Vasya the Lamplighter” comes from). He also participated in metro construction, and worked as an animator and modeler with film-director A. L. Ptushko. Unlike his “luckier” competitors who had entered the academy and were taken hostage by Social Realism Vasya always remained free in his creativity.

Adam and Eva (1967) A victim of slander (like many in those times in the USSR) he was arrested in 1941 announced insane and sent to Kazan for compulsory treatment. In 1944 he returned to Moscow and worked here and there to survive somehow. After imprisonment, asylum, ruining of illusions and all personal dramas – he still was not crushed by life. In the ‘Thaw’ period he joined the nonconformist art movement.

Formally, Sitnikov’s works are based on the traditional system of academic studies from nude nature and elaborate graphic shading. His nudes, however, acquired surrealistic eroticism, and his shadings created rippling airy covers enveloping forms like snowy mist, marshland fog, or haze of light. In addition to that, he employed the characteristic features of ‘Russian style’ in the spirit of symbolism and modern.

Sketch (1964) This is how Sitnikov’s painting and graphic series of the 1960-70s came to life: nudes, sexual grotesques, his unique ‘monasteries with snowflakes’, and steppe landscapes (also with the central motive of a monastery). His way of life itself was an artistic happening, a continuous artistic ‘playing the fool’, to start with the famous inscription ‘I will come soon’ on the entrance door of his flat harboring a precious collection of church relics and Oriental carpets.

From 1951 the artist went keenly into teaching, which was making his dream of ‘home academy’ true. His system of teaching arts involved quite a few methods of epatage and paradox (such as advice on studying toning through ‘shading’ newspaper photos, or on painting landscapes with a broom from a paint bucket, etc). Sitnikov’s possession with art was catching. “He could tempt anyone to draw, those who wanted to and even those who did not”, one of his students says. In the 60s Sitnikov was perhaps the only artist to teach anyone willing to be in the art.

A Field (1974) Some of his disciples surpassed the master in fame. A whole range of outstanding artists (V.G. Veisberg, Y. A. Vedernikov, M. D. Sterligova, A. V. Kharitonov, etc.) were associated – by direct studying or creative contacts – with ‘the school of Sitnikov’. However, as time went by, the school in general (with some exceptions like the above mentioned) slipped down to manufacturing ‘souvenir kitsch’.

In 1975 the master immigrated to Austria and then to the United States. The artist took nothing with him. Sitnikov donated the most valuable part of his collection of icons to Andrei Rublev Museum of Old Russian Art. His possessions ‘dispersed’ almost without leaving a trace, except for reproductions and separate works in museums (Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University, New Jersey, the USA; etc.). He was not commercially successful abroad, though his works were displayed in prestigious museums, such as New York Museum of Modern Arts (MOMA), and others.

Sitnikov died on November 28, 1987, in New York. His ashes were buried in Vagankovskoye Cemetery (Moscow).

In 2002 the documentary film “VASYA” attempting to give an insight into personality of this legendary artist premiered in New York.

Photos of paintings taken from site


Vera Ivanova and Mikhail Manykin


Tags: Russian Painters Vasily Sitnikov    

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